Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study (Paperback)George E. Vaillant (author)
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At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.
Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days. The now-classic Adaptation to Life reported on the men's lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation. Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.
Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study's subjects), Triumphs of Experience shares a number of surprising findings. For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Number of pages: 480
Weight: 408 g
Dimensions: 210 x 140 x 30 mm
Vaillant concludes that personal development need never stop, no matter how old you are. At an advanced age, though, growth consists more in finding new hues and shades in one's past than in conceiving plans for the future. As the Harvard Study shows with such poignancy, older men treat what lies behind them much as younger men treat what lies ahead. The future is what young men dream about; they ponder the extent to which it is predetermined or open; and they try to shape it. For old men, it is the past they dream about; it is the past whose inevitability or indeterminateness they attempt to measure; and it is the past they try to reshape. For the most regret-free men in the Harvard study, the past is the work of their future. -- Andrew Stark * Wall Street Journal *
Triumphs of Experience elegantly summarizes the findings of this vast longitudinal study, unique in the annals of research... [The] book analyzes how the men fared over their late adulthood, and indeed their entire lives. In it, Vaillant masterfully chronicles how their life successes, or lack thereof, correlate with the nature of their childhoods, marriages, mental health, physical health, substance abuse, and attitudes. Extensive quantitative findings are interspersed with the detailed stories of individual study participants... Here Vaillant proves that his skills are literary as well as scientific. The case histories are engaging novelistic capsules that artfully bring the quantitative material to life... Many of its findings seem universal. If they could be boiled down to a single revelation, it would be that the secret to a happy life is relationships, relationships, relationships... The other overarching message of this book is that resilience counts... Vaillant is that rare thing: a psychiatrist more interested in mental flourishing than in mental illness. With Triumphs of Experience, he has turned the Harvard men's disparate stories into a single narrative and created a field guide, both practical and profound, to how to lead a good life. -- Charles Barber * Wilson Quarterly *
The factor Vaillant returns to most insistently is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in old age. -- Scott Stossel * The Atlantic *
In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant elegantly and persuasively brings us an answer to the question that launched a thousand snake-oil salesmen: what makes for a successful and happy life? ...[An] engaging work. There are regrettably few studies of this magnitude and even fewer accounts that so ably synthesize the broader insights with the moving parts. -- Christopher Croke * The Australian *
To avid consumers of modern happiness literature, some of Vaillant's conclusions will seem shopworn ('Happiness is love. Full stop.'), while other results of the Grant Study appear to confirm what social science has long posited-that a warm and stable childhood environment is a crucial ingredient of success; or that alcoholism is a strong predictor of divorce. But what's unique about the Grant Study is the freedom it gives Vaillant to look past quick diagnosis, to focus on how patterns of growth can determine patterns of wellbeing. Life is long, Vaillant seems to be saying, and lots of shit happens. What is true in one stage of a man's life is not true in another. Previously divorced men are capable of long and loving marriages. There is a time to monitor cholesterol (before age 50) and a time to ignore it. Self-starting, as a character trait, is relatively unimportant to flourishing early in life but very important at the end of it. Socially anxious men struggle for decades in emotional isolation and then mature past it-relatively speaking. Triumphs of Experience is not only a history of how the Grant men adapted (or not) to life over 70-plus years, but of how author and science grew up alongside them. Yet what unifies Triumphs is the same question posed originally by Bock, the study's founder: What factors meaningfully and reliably predict the good life? Vaillant's mission is to uncover the 'antecedents of flourishing.' -- Dan Slater * Daily Beast *
Offers broadly applicable evidence about how everything from early maturity to grandparents' longevity is likely to affect flourishing throughout life... It is hard to overstate the wealth of the data provided in Triumphs of Experience or the ambition of the project, composed of survey responses, health records, and interviews. This archive of human life is poised to answer questions shorter studies can barely hint at... Vaillant offers striking conclusions about a range of factors affecting human flourishing. -- Adam Plunkett * New Republic online *
Reading like a storybook, the case histories of the individuals provide fascinating insights about how the subjects tackled challenges or succumbed to setbacks. Vaillant superbly explains how these lifelong experiences sculpted these men's final years. Readers can learn more about themselves and what they may expect from life by reading this revelatory and absorbing book. -- Aron Row * San Francisco Book Review *
George Vaillant's book on the development and well-being of a longitudinal sample of men, now in their nineties and studied regularly since they were undergraduates at Harvard University, reads like a riveting detective tale... He has a thought-provoking story to tell about the lifelong significance of loving care... Brief life-story vignettes illustrate movingly how adult development and maturation is a lifelong process that strongly relates to the transformative power of receiving and giving love... [The book's] well-evidenced wisdoms on the significance of nurturing relationships offer new multidisciplinary perspectives on the complex issue of nature versus nurture (much needed at a time when medical science and genetics once more dominate studies of human development) and on the lifelong costs of childhood emotional neglect. -- E. Stina Lyon * Times Higher Education *
This fascinating book of 'numbers' and 'pictures' is the final summary volume of a longitudinal psychosocial study focused on the optimum health of 268 males from Harvard College classes... This book is well worth reading for the discoveries contained in its pages; it has the potential to advance knowledge about adult development. -- J. Clawson * Choice *
A fascinating account of the 268 individuals selected for the Harvard Study of Adult Development... Vaillant has done a wonderful job summarizing the study, discussing its major findings, and communicating his enthusiasm for every aspect of the project, which became his life's work starting in 1966. The study has been investigating what makes a successful and healthy life. Initially, this meant looking for potential officer material for the military. Vaillant established what he called 'the Decathlon of Flourishing-a set of ten accomplishments in late life that covered many different facets of success.' With humor and intriguing insights, the author shows how progress in health studies and the passage of time contributed to the constant 'back and forth between nature and nurture.' During Vaillant's tenure, human maturation and resilience became the focus, and now biology is reasserting itself in the form of DNA studies and fMRI imaging, the seeds for future research. The author considers the study's greatest contributions to be a demonstration that human growth continues long after adolescence, the world's longest and most thorough study of alcoholism, and its identification and charting of involuntary coping mechanisms. Inspiring when reporting these successes, his personal approach to discovery repeatedly draws readers in as he leads up to the account of his realization that the true value of a human life can only be fully understood in terms of the cumulative record of the entire life span. Joyful reading about a groundbreaking study and its participants. * Kirkus Reviews (starred review) *
Vaillant's fascination with the human condition and his deep insights about development make him a great storyteller, adept at elegantly conveying the essence of humanity. -- Laura L. Carstensen, Director, Stanford Center on Longevity
George Vaillant tells the story of the Grant Study men though age 91. This is, arguably, the most important study of the life course ever done. But it is, inarguably, the one most brimming with wisdom. If you are preparing for the last quarter of your life, this is a MUST read. -- Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness
What makes a good life? Most people would just speculate, cite one-off examples, perhaps reference a personal religious doctrine-or just shrug. But shouldn't we have at least some scientific answers to this question by now? Actually, we do. The Grant Study has followed a group of men for their entire adult lives. It has tracked them for over 75 years. What factors make for a good life? How does personality, marriage, children, career, friends and lifestyle contribute to fulfillment over the course of decades? Most studies last weeks or months. The Grant Study is still going on. It's one of the most illuminating glimpses into what makes life meaningful. -- Eric Barker * The Week *
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